December 18th, 2014
Bold Giving at the Intersection of Faith & Philanthropy
God has a wonderful sense of humor! For much of my adult life I have been engaging with money as a spiritual practice, trying to live simply and working for social justice. Recently, my teenage sons and I needed to relocate to one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the country so they could attend a specific school. I fought incredible resistance. How could I stay grounded and follow a path of simplicity surrounded by different values? It’s easy to live your values when you’re with people who share the same visions and attitudes. One day I realized this was a “holy joke,” a great place to practice what I had been learning.
It’s a challenge to live simply in my neighborhood, but we are figuring it out. We rent a 950 square foot house and live on a tight family budget. We live close to the school so the boys can ride their bikes and we get our food from a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a new economic model where we share the financial risk of farming with the farmer, buying a share of their season’s crops (good or bad) and allowing them to focus on farming rather than selling. We buy our clothes at the thrift store where the money and clothing are circulated back into the community.
Money is an expression of my inner spirit. I continually contemplate: Where to shop? How to invest my assets? How much is enough to live on and how much to give away? How do I raise my children? And, most importantly, how can the money that moves through my life participate in what God is doing in the world to make sure that everyone has enough. I don’t do it all perfectly, but whenever I do find that alignment, something holy happens - money becomes sacrament. This brings me great joy.
My sons and I talk openly about money. I’ve been working with a financial planner who shares my money vision and my kids are a part of those conversations. I take an active role in creating a portfolio aligned with my values with them at the table. I had to walk outside one paradigm and into another when I was growing up. They are growing up seeing how money can align with our values. We also integrate fun into our lives and especially enjoy hiking, making music and being creative.
I grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Mount Kisco, New York, the fourth of six children. My parents emphasized kindness, ethics, and integrity, and they generously participated in community service projects. At the age of 16, I began to search for something deeper within myself and my faith, something that would hold up in the face of the injustices I was witnessing in the world. During this time, a wise Rabbi befriended me, teaching me how to engage spiritual questions with curiosity and a sense of humor.
I continued my search at Georgetown University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, studying religion and the liberal arts. Upon graduation, I made a decision to live simply and work with women who were homeless in Washington DC. Ironically, this decision coincided with a gift of love that came in the form of money, the first part of a financial inheritance. The paradox of that moment began my search for a way to hold together my reality as a person of wealth with a desire to respond to injustice in the world.
At first, I did nothing and pretended the money didn’t exist. I had no financial literacy, didn’t understand the economic system, and tried to ignore a portfolio that included companies that violated my own conscience. But eventually I began to explore and my journey took me to the Catholic Worker movement, Faith and Money Network, Haiti, a Masters of Divinity program at the Jesuit School of Theology, The Song of Songs, Yes!, Be Present, and to Harvest Time, where I am now the Executive Director.
At Harvest Time I found a community of friends and a safe place to talk about money and Christian faith. During the years I have been involved with Harvest Time, I’ve witnessed grace moving through my own life as well as through the lives of others. I have learned that engaging with wealth as a spiritual practice can launch a transformative journey. As a community we explore what we do with money, what we value through it, how much we hold on to, how much and how we give, how we spend, how we invest – all of which changes as our hearts change and are opened. Money becomes more and more an expression of love and an agent of grace as God works through the converted heart. If you want to find your blocks to love, start paying attention to money and your relationship to it.
I initially started giving to alleviate poverty and for immediate needs. Over time I started to realize that what the world needs is a bigger shift and started donating to organizations that support systemic shift and shifts in consciousness such as Harvest Time; New Camaldoli Hermitage, a monastery on the Big Sur Coast; and Be Present, which works with individuals to address the many ways that racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression manifest within our homes, organizations, and communities.
My advice to others - you have to look at the stuff that’s not aligned in your life, not with guilt or shame but with compassion. Experiment. I now laugh at some of my past giving but that’s how I learned. Failure is where we get to learn something.
Be willing to engage with others who are willing to be real and honest at a deep level and explore though organizations such as Harvest Time, or see if there is a community on Bolder Giving’s Giving Communities web portal that might be a good fit for you.
The key thing is first to know that it’s possible to step into a different flow of money than the mainstream culture supports. Deep transformation takes time and patience. A lot can happen. That’s when the fun begins!